Honoring National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day with the Alexandria Department of Health

The Alexandria Department of Health has been active in the HIV/AIDS community in their area for decades.  They hosted their annual NBHAAD event and included their current grant-funded program, Getting 2 Zero Alexandria which focuses on HIV testing in the Alexandria area.   What started as a screening for the film, Thicker Than Blood turned into a great discussion on educating the community on HIV/AIDS and managing stigma.

Thicker Than Blood has a scene where a family member who is HIV positive, has his status outed during an argument.   Based on this event, the question posed was how can we, as a community support someone in revealing their status. There were many suggestions to normalize HIV/AIDS to promote a safe space for disclosure including making HIV screenings a standard, engaging in more conversations about sex and protection, and reframing the conversation of HIV/AIDS.

A member of the audience that is a nurse introduced the idea of HIV being a routine screening during appointments for sexually active adults between 18-64.  As I listened to her stance on testing as a requirement, I realized I have never discussed or been asked about HIV/AIDS during a doctor’s appointment. I am 35 years old. I have been seeing an OBGYN since at least 20.   I complete annual physicals with my primary care doctor and OBGYN. I’ve had surgery. I’ve had a child. I have NEVER been asked about HIV/AIDS. I have NEVER been tested for HIV/AIDS at a doctor’s office. Each time I have been tested for HIV/AIDS it was on a college campus or during an HIV/AIDS Awareness Event.  In my experience, HIV/AIDS is not a part of the routine conversation at my doctors’ offices. The one great thing about HIV/AIDS is that it is absolutely PREVENTABLE! Sure prevention methods can be addressed in the home, at school, and in personal relationships, but we absolutely rely on the healthcare system for DETECTION.  Detection is a primary step in containing the virus! Now one must ask, why is this conversation not being held with our regular healthcare providers? Are you and your doctor talking about HIV/AIDS?

The next point that was pretty consistent amongst the audience was the constant secrets and fear of difficult conversations.  Many of the participants work in HIV/AIDS advocacy and in working with youth, they revealed a lack of communication between parents and youth.  The creator of Safe Space Nova was in attendance and his program provides a place of shelter and an opportunity to have these conversations for LGBT youth but it was clear professionals are still encountering sex and related issues as topics of taboo.  Are we still not talking about sex?! Salt N Pepa were asking us to “talk about sex” in 1990.  Is it really that difficult to discuss nearly 30 years later with sex seemingly at the front and center of most of our entertainment?  Do you or do you plan to talk to your children about sex?

The last theme addressed was reframing.  Reframing is very important to Project Know and it’s an opportunity to change the narrative on HIV/AIDS.  It is often difficult for someone to disclose their status due to the negative stigma.  Unfortunately, telling someone you have HIV/AIDS can be met with a lot of accusations versus compassion.  Project Know aims to have the conversations about HIV/AIDS.  We wear our shirts to promote conversations and foster understanding.  We all can do our part to educate our family, friends, peers, church members, colleagues, etc.

As you can see, the event led to great discussions and Project Know plans to keep the conversation going.  A special thank you to the Alexandria Department of Health.

Let’s hear some of your answers and suggestions in the comments.  

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